Steve Kelley: At the Olympics
Steve Kelley, a Seattle Times sports columnist for 25 years, is covering his eighth Olympics. He'll share news and tidbits as the Beijing Games unfold.
August 7, 2008 12:47 PM
Posted by Steve Kelley
Underestandably we're a little down on the NBA in Seattle these days. Something about the Oklahoma City Thunder, or Blunder, or whatever they've decided to call themselves. And, pessimistic as it is to think this way, it could be another decade before the league returns to Seattle and a remodeled KeyArena.
But half a world away, in Dongdan Park, just a block from Beijing's busiest shopping area, the kids on the court are in love with the game. And much of the affection is a tribute to marketing. The courts here are sponsored by Nike. There are swooshes on every center circle on every full court.
During non-Olympic times, posters of LeBron James and Kobe Bryant and Dwyane Wade cover the walls and fences surrounding the courts. A block away, a Nike store showcases jerseys, shoes, just about every saleable item from all of this Fab Three.
Pointing in the direction of the Nike store, 15-year-old Wang Xiao Giang, who plays for his school team in Hunan Province, says "You can look at all the stuff right there. You can see pictures of all the great NBA players. The NBA is everywhere at the store."
Wang admits, almost heretically, that his favorite player isn't China's Yao Ming. He says it's Miami's Dwyane Wade, a member of the U.S. Olympic team. And his second favorite is Denver's Allen Iverson.
"I like his lifestyle," Wang said. "I think he's cool."
Nike cool. Marketably cool.
Wang also had a prediction for the Olympic tournament, which opens Sunday with a game between China and the United States.
"I don't think the United States will win the tournament, but I know that China cannot beat them," he said. "But I think China can win enough games to get to the round of eight. That would be very good for us."
August 7, 2008 6:05 AM
Posted by Steve Kelley
Hobbling on a bad hip that he says needs to be replaced, Jim Lefebvre met Rod Mar and me at the front of the Olympic Village on Thursday afternoon and entertained us with movie's worth of stories for two hours.
His team was playing in a scrimmage against the United States at 6 p.m., but you got the feeling Lefebvre was so grateful for this chance to talk baseball with people he had known for years that he would have stayed in the village's cafe until about 5:55.
The former Mariner manager may have lost a step, but he hasn't lost any of his fire. For two hours he bounced around the booth in the cafe like he was back at second base with the Dodgers. He'd jump up and ilillustate techniques. He was the same high-energy, motivational speaker he'd been in Seattle.
Lefebvre is the manager of China's Olympic baseball team and, while his team won't win a medal, he thinks the game has a great future in this country.
"There is no question in my mind, there is absolutely no question, that if China every commits itself to a baseball program it would be a world power in a very, very short period of time. They have incredible athletes here and I know where to get them and they're not in baseball."
I joked to him that if they weren't in baseball where was he going to get them? Team handball? Lefebvre looked shocked.
"Where did you come up with that?' he asked as if I had exposed a state secret.
For a period of time during training, the baseball team has shared a training facility with China's team handball squad and Lefebvre was amazed at the athleticism of the players.
"They're all big. They're tremendous athletes," Lefebvre said. "The first time I saw their practice I was sitting with our pitching coach at the time Bruce Hurst. We were just kind of lounging around and then the practice began and we saw some of the athleticism and we sat right up.
"They have great arm strength. They have that hand-eye coordination and they'll throw the crap out of the ball. They're tough players. I'd go over every day to watch them practice and just think, 'Wow, they'd look good in a baseball uniform.' I saw how agressive they were and I wished I had one of them."
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